While he’s been producing great genre films for years now, Ant Timpson took the directorial reins for Come to Daddy, his darkly comedic slapstick thriller hybrid featuring great performances from a stacked ensemble, including Elijah Wood, Martin Donovan, Stephen McHattie, and Michael Smiley. The story is centered around Norval (played by Woods), an entitled twenty-something who has been beckoned to the home of his estranged father, but their reunion goes awry in more ways than one.
Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with both Timpson and Woods about Come to Daddy, where Timpson chatted about the inspirations behind his feature film debut and his experiences collaborating with his entire team. Woods, who also isn’t a stranger to the indie horror scene, discussed what initially drew him to both the film and the role of Norval, and his excitement over getting to work with Timpson and his fellow co-stars as well.
Come to Daddy will be playing one final time at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival on Friday, May 3rd at 9:45 pm (Regal Cinemas Batter Park).
Great to speak with you today, guys. You both have been really integral to the independent horror scene for years now, so it was fun to see you working together on this. And Ant, for you, I'd love to talk about this story in particular and why it felt right to be your [feature] directorial debut and that process of putting this project together initially.
Ant Timpson: Yeah, it was the kind of a film that had to be made because if I'd gone through the process of deciding to find a script and make something, I don't think it would have actually happened. I think I needed this momentous life change, which was my father passing, and having a weird and surreal sort of grieving process with him by being alone with his corpse five days in the house, which is part of laying wake and processing and grieving the death. And then from that experience, it was so surreal that I wanted to create something that my father and I would have watched maybe when we were younger, because we loved really dark British thrillers with black comedy mixed in with very sort of slow burn character pieces.
So, in some crazy way, it was like his death was the propulsion I needed to wake me up and realize that I should get back to what I started off doing, which was making films, and it turned out to be this insane love letter to the movies that we loved. So, that's where it all comes from. Then I just worked with a fantastic writer, Toby, that I'd worked with on The Greasy Strangler. Elijah was a producer on that project, too, and so it was this really nice combination of all these things coming together to create this film.
It’s so hard these days, and especially with genre fans, to do something that can surprise audiences, to do anything that's unexpected and that goes against the grain. And I feel like you've done so many films that have achieved just that. Can you talk about finding new ways to tell stories and incorporating these things, as you mentioned, that you love about movies as a fan into these projects that you’ve been involved with?
Ant Timpson: Well, I just feel like I'm an encyclopedia for the genre because all I've been in love with from such an early age were genre movies, which has made me very well-versed with so many types of those niche categories within the whole world of genre film. So, at this point, I feel like if I end up being surprised on the page, when you can feel like something's going to work, once you understand the structures, you can tell how things will play out to audiences. Because at my core, I want to be that audience member, so I want to know how it's going to feel for them when they're sitting there watching it.
Elijah, I'd love to talk about your thoughts coming into this. Obviously, you know Ant from the work that you guys have done together before, but what was the initial appeal? Was it getting to working with Ant as a director? Was it this character? There are a lot of really fun things that you get to do in Come to Daddy that I don't think we have ever seen you do before.
Elijah Wood: Well, it was a combination of all those things. Certainly, to work with Ant as an actor to his director was really exciting. There was my pre-existing love of Toby Harvard's writing from Greasy Strangler, too, but it was really the script itself. I would have been honest with him if it wasn't for me. I fell in love with it. It sets itself up to be one thing, and it constantly changes and subverts your expectations, and I found it hilarious and shocking and surprising. And I love the character, who starts off as sort of a douchebag and ultimately goes through quite a harrowing journey to change a lot, and ended up becoming a little bit more like his own father. So, there was this kind of emotional truth to it, too, that I really responded to.
But yeah, it makes an impact on you when you read something as good as this and as taut as this. It's difficult to find scripts that you respond to, and this was instant. I just wanted to help him tell the story.
Let’s dig into Norval a bit more, because as you mentioned, he comes in as this pretty unlikeable dude, where it’s all about this appearance that he puts up, but there's this humanity to him as well, and I think we see him stripped to the bone the further that this goes along. Can you talk about finding that balance of this guy who rubs everyone the wrong way, but he's still a guy you relate to, and you still want to see come through this?
Elijah Wood: I think some of that was just connecting to what he was genuinely going through, which is actually quite a vulnerable position to be in. If you haven't seen your father since you were five years of age, you're essentially meeting a stranger. And that's an incredibly daunting and potentially terrifying thing, the expectations going into that, or is this person going to be who I want him to be? Are we going to have a relationship? Is it going to be like I'd always dreamed it to be?
So, there is this artifice to him, and there's this world that he comes from that is so not the environment that he's come out to visit his father, but there is also a deep yearning for there to be a genuine connection, and I think underneath all of that, a vulnerability of putting himself out there because he could be very disappointed. The father could be someone that he didn't necessarily expect, which sort of turns out to be the case.
Before we go, Ant can you discuss putting together this ensemble and working through these very offbeat characters with everyone throughout the film?
Ant Timpson: It was such a fun process. I knew once Elijah was there to ground everything, he's nearly in every frame of the film, so he became that emotional core to everything. So, I felt like the characters around him could give the story these fun moments where each time a new face pops up, they offer something new that we haven't seen yet.
There was this moment when we were making this where I just suddenly felt like, "This is all magical," and it really did feel like that whole alchemy thing where it's like lightning in a bottle and it feels like it's just all the right personalities for the right roles coming together. When Martin [Donovan] came on, he just said it was just such a rewarding experience for him. He felt like it was going back to when he was really excited, being thrown in the deep end of things. He'd been playing politicians and everything recently, and he just found this to be this really rock and roll experience to get in there and go crazy.
Elijah Wood: And he really did jump in, too.
Ant Timpson: He hit the ground running.
Elijah Wood: It was just so exhilarating to see him jump into something that was like from the frying pan into the fire, right into the deep end with such gusto, man. It was totally electrifying. I was shaking because of just the kind of energy that he thrust into the film. It was awesome.
Ant Timpson: Look, I'm a fan at heart. All filmmakers come from being fans of cinema, and Martin Donovan came down and shot a film in New Zealand a long time ago. A friend of mine called him, and I was the cinema manager when Hal Hartley films were the greatest thing in the art houses around the world. So, he was like an icon to me, but more so than that, they were just the right people for the right part. When it works, it works.
In case you missed it, check here to catch up on our previous Tribeca Film Festival coverage, including Heather's four-star review of Come to Daddy!